After class was over, we sat down to discuss my observations. The first thing she said was, “Oh no, what a horrible day. I am so exhausted. Sorry you had to watch that.” I was flabbergasted because I didn’t really think it was that bad at all. “Jane, I was actually about to tell you what a wonderful class you have.” She was shocked. “Really? What do you mean? Carl and Joey were constantly bickering and bothering the other students. It was really getting on my nerves.” I told her that I thought their behavior was pretty normal for that age and that I noticed so many wonderful learning moments that their disruptions seemed minor. I also explained the negative attribution bias.
She was astonished to learn that she had focused so much on the few challenging students that she had missed out on celebrating the many joyful learning moments that had occurred. I offered a practice to help her change this habit. “Each day, after your class is over, write down all the good things that happened that day. You can even include your students in this process by putting up a paper on the wall and inviting everyone to write good things that happen each day. At the end of the day, look at the list with the class and review them.”
She took to this suggestion with relish and created a whole bulletin board devoted to this activity. At the top she put “GOOD THINGS HAPPEN” in large, colorful letters. Students were invited to write and draw about good things that happened on small pieces of paper that were posted each day. To her surprise, the first day there were 15 good things posted and more than half of them had been written by the students. Furthermore, Carl and Joey got excited about this activity and wanted to be part of making good things happen. Jane realized that this was an opportunity for encouraging their pro-social behavior. She began catching them when they were doing the right thing, rather than being constantly alert to their tendencies to get in trouble. Reinforcing their positive behavior with recognition made a big difference, and soon they were as engaged as the rest of her students….